The ‘we’re in this together’ mantra that defined the opening days of the COVID pandemic is gone, replaced by a rumour mill where facts are replaced by fear. It’s an ugly turn for a province that fancies itself civil and welcoming.
To a certain extent, apprehension is understandable. The Island avoided the worst of the pandemic because we diligently followed public health guidance. We washed our hands, observed social distancing, and stayed indoors. We trusted science and it worked. We are rightfully protective of our position.
But now some want to ignore science. They want our borders to remain closed indefinitely based on a fear that simply being a resident of some other province is justification enough to ignore scientific data. Last week someone ‘plate shamed’ Miriam Leslie, a Salvation Army minister who has lived on the Island for a year but drives a car with a Nova Scotia plate. While enjoying a visit to a Canoe Cove park an unknown Islander left a note impolitely suggesting she ‘go the (expletive) back to the mainland.’
The stupidity and arrogance of the act is appalling. It should offend every Islander; it ignorantly assumes a license plate equates to an increased potential of contracting COVID. Wrong.
The basic recommendations of proper hand washing and social distancing still hold true for keeping the virus at bay. Geography is no replacement for science and common sense, which says the Atlantic provinces are doing a very good job, and former hot spots in Ontario and Quebec are now trending downward.
Being an opposition party during a pandemic is not easy. Both Liberals and Greens put province ahead of party during the darkest days of COVID, and deserve credit for it. But now as our risk lessens both are struggling to find a voice that resonates so they are opting for cheap political shots that play into irrational fear expressed by a vocal minority.
Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker’s reputation is built on thoughtful questioning based on fact, data and science. He threw that out of the window with a questionable decision to use anonymous fears and innuendo to plant the seed of suspicion on approval granted some soon to arrive Ontario seasonal residents.
License plates are not science. Last month I drove a rental car for a week. It had an Ontario plate that generated more than a few gentle pokes from those who saw it. Imagine the hostility out of province residents feel when rumour displaces credible information and public debate.
Prince Edward Island’s record of protecting the health of Islanders is clear; there simply is no evidence to support rhetoric that allowing visitors, in a structured and stringent manner, has had any negative consequence. Upwards of 9,000 out of province workers have arrived with no issue. There’s been no issue with travellers commuting through PEI to visit Magdalen Islands.
Specific questions on the process of accepting or rejecting applications or how individuals are monitored upon arrival are valid. Bevan-Baker didn’t frame his questions this way.
If the Official Opposition believes snitching and rumour are the path forward, it should question how many full-time Islanders are failing to properly wash their hands or social distance. Our record is not pristine.
For the opposition to throw aside fact for fiction is repugnant to everything the party repeatedly says it stands for. Now is not the time for unsupported fearmongering, no matter how enticing the potential political gain.
In response to last week’s provincial budget, the Official Opposition congratulated government for spending in areas deemed important by the party. Well, with the province running a $173 million deficit, it takes revenue to pay the bills going forward, unless Greens want needed investments to be slashed after a year.
During the heated debate, Bevan-Baker used the incendiary term ‘gaslighting’ to describe the premier’s handling of the seasonal resident issue. The Green leader needs to look in the mirror. If anyone is guilty of gaslighting it is Bevan-Baker.
Science says our province can continue to open our doors to visitors, with continued diligence. We need to.
The Green Party has struggled to put forward a cohesive response to the pandemic. The party would be wise to remember it was not mudslinging that drew Islanders to it. It was smart, relevant ideas and criticism. Peter Bevan-Baker’s lurch toward the lowest common denominator is neither smart nor relevant. It is unseemly and unproductive.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org